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Robby Gordon wins another Baja, then jets to Pocono

Robby Gordon, one of NASCAR's very few owner-drivers, is also one of the world's top off-road racers (Photo: PlanetRobby.com)

   By Mike Mulhern

Robby Gordon, who lives to prove that he can do it all 'his way,' arrived here at Pocono Raceway early Sunday morning, just in time for the Pocono 500, after winning the Baja 500.
   "Eight hours, 30 minutes, non-stop," Gordon said of the latest version of the event he's been running for two decades now. "The first part of it was through the streets of Ensenada – no speed limit. Curb to curb, full-drift. Pretty nutty.
   "I love to do that. It brings it all back to reality."
  Yes, racers are a different breed.
   Gordon, who runs with veteran co-driver Andy Grider, has been a Baja legend for 20 years and has rock-star cult status in the Ensenada, Mexico part of the world. He won the 500 in 2005 and finished second in 2007. This was his fifth Baja victory.

    Gordon and Grider started sixth, led most of the race, and finished four minutes, 45 seconds ahead of runner-up BJ Baldwin, who called Gordon "the baddest desert racer out there. I've never ridden with a driver that is capable of the things he can do in a car."


Ride the Baja HERE.

   Gordon, a Chevy guy off-road but a Toyota racer this season in NASCAR, is flat amazing to watch off-road. He's done several videos. And even 20 years at it, he's still one of the tops in the world – which he showed again in January, finishing third in the Dakar Rally, in a GM Hummer.
   "What I really like about this off-road stuff is I can build anything I want, I can let my imagination go wild," Gordon says.
    "No rules.
   "So it's like Formula One racing on dirt. The only rule is no blowers, no turbos.
   "You can whittle something out on a lathe or a mill and then go race that part.
    "So we make every part on the car, everything from wheels to brake calipers to the body. That's the part I truly enjoy…because here in NASCAR your hands are so tied, and if your rear end is a little off, it's $50,000 and 50 points. But off-road you can use your imagination….so I'd love for Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske to come race off-road and see what they could do."
   No rules, eh. Maybe Gordon should invite some NASCAR execs down to the Baja to get some ideas on what could be done with this car-of-tomorrow?
   "No – Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton (the NASCAR officials in charge of the Cup tour) do a good job," Gordon said. "If we ran our Cup programs like we run our off-road stuff, we'd have Formula One budgets."

The key to off-road racing in the Baja, typically, is to get out of the dust, so you have 'clear air,' and can see what's coming up.
   But this time Gordon did it differently.
   "The first 80 miles I couldn't see my hand in front of my face…..but our strategy worked very well for us," Gordon said.
   "I passed one on the highway, so that gave me a 30-second-cushion.
   "We did a fuel stop at 80….and I knew if I could get back to where I couldn't see my hand in front of my face, then when the rest of them stopped for fuel, I would pass them. And that's exactly what happened.
   "And once I got in front, I made a couple of short stops, to make sure I stayed ahead of them. And it was over from there.
   "We won by four minutes, because I thought that was the pace I needed to win the race. If I'd been in full-kill mode, I'm sure we could have padded that by another 10 minutes. But the truck might not have made it.
   "You can over-drive these things."
   Robby Gordon over-drive?
    He laughed.
   Gordon's off-road ventures aren't just on off-NASCAR weekends; he's going for the SCORE championship, while running NASCAR full-time too.
   And he's opened the season with two firsts and a second.
   "And we finished third in the Dakar…so our off-road program is really good," Gordon said. "The Dakar program and the Baja program don't operate out of the same shop….but maybe they should….even though the rules are different for both."
   The Dakar next year, as this, will be through Chile and Argentina, and he's got another year on his GM Dakar sponsorship.
   "If I hadn't burned the clutch up and made a navigational error we'd have won the Dakar….so there's no reason we can't go back and win this time," Gordon said.
    Gordon's road racing prowess is well known, and he says Sonoma, the NASCAR stop in two weeks, is circled. "
   "I'm looking forward to Sonoma…but the double-file restarts won't make any difference," Gordon says. "The leader (who gets to chose inside or outside) will take the inside every time and force the outside guy out.
  "We've been testing for Sonoma for two months now, and the last time we were this well prepared for Sonoma we won it. So we could do it again."
   NASCAR is looking at possible changes in the car-of-tomorrow, to improve the racing. Any suggestions from Gordon?
   "Changing the engines would be a bad thing," Gordon says. "That would take the fun out for me.  Look at the IRL: It's restrictor plate racing every week, and it's plain boring to watch.
   "I have no interest in restrictor plate racing. If they do too much restrictor plate racing here, you won't see me here.
   "My opinion on the COT is that it's fine.
    "The side-force on this car versus the side-force on the old car is different – the old car, in yaw (in the corners), would get more downforce in the front. This car is easier to save. So you don't as many wrecks…so you don't have the cars bunched up…so you don't have the racing like we used to have.
   "The only reason we had 'racing' before is that if you got on the outside of another car (in the corners), you'd have two cars in the wall, and that would bunch everyone back up.
   "I think NASCAR has a good package right now, and they need to be careful what they do with it. Because in today's economy….no reason to scrap all our race cars.
   "And a lot of us have a hard time just keeping cars in the field as it is."


If only NASCAR let teams use tires this big.
.....(Photo: Toyo)


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